Ikea Is Stepping Into Virtual Reality by Creating a Game for New Store Openings

It could be a template for future stores

An Ikea visitor tries the furniture brand's virtual reality experience at a store opening in Texas. Ikea
Headshot of Marty Swant

Having already entered augmented reality, Ikea is now exploring a way for shoppers to learn more about its products in virtual reality.

Working with the recently merged MEC-Maxus agency Wavemaker, Ikea worked with incorporated a virtual reality experience for one of its store openings in a Dallas suburb, immersing visitors in an Ikea world where they could play a “pillow toss” game with a coffee table or hang out with a panda inside a bamboo lamp. Nearly 300 people tried out the popular Swedish brand’s VR for the first time, spending between three and five minutes playing games, examining furniture or learning about sustainability and design.

The marketing play is Ikea’s latest move into the world of digitally showcasing products as it seeks to help shoppers learn more about its furniture in a more experiential way. Just a few months ago, the company releasing an AR app, which lets shoppers see how hypothetical purchases would look by holding up their iPhone camera in their home. While the AR app only requires a smartphone, Ikea used the HTC Vive headset for visitors to try inside the Dallas store.

“I think for us, it was taking the next level and trying to educate consumers and [draw] potential guests to the store,” said Kelly Cronin Niszczak, Ikea North America’s media project manager. “It’s another layer of our amazing stories we have about product development and sustainability. … I think for us it really helped to depend that knowledge base for our guests.”

VR can be an expensive endeavor. For a very small audience—in this case, just a few hundred people—some brands might not be willing to stomach the cost, especially as marketers and content creators alike still debate whether the emerging technology is effective enough to drive a return on investment. Industry experts have said creating custom VR can cost anywhere from tens of thousands of dollars to $1 million or more. (Ikea and Wavemaker declined to disclose the price of creating the experience.)

However, Ikea’s VR game is something it can potentially reuse. Now that Ikea has set up the framework, it’s now replicable and portable for future store openings, according to Noah Mallin, Wavemaker’s head of experience, content and sponsorship. He said wearing the headset becomes part of the theater and allows Ikea to utilize past experiential marketing initiatives and “bump it up a few notches.”

“I think that as VR develops, that’s going to be a more important distinction of VR as a medium,” he explained, “because otherwise, why have that surround experience if you can’t interact and alter the way that you explore the world that’s created for you?”

For Ikea, VR is still a marketing endeavor, but other brands have begun toying with the idea of e-commerce within the medium. Earlier this year, Mastercard partnered with Swarovski to let users see a chandelier in VR and then buy it with Mastercard’s app from within the experience.

Asked if he thinks VR is the future of e-commerce, Mallin said there are some areas for potential. He explained that compared to websites or mobile apps, VR could be a more immersive way for consumers to pick the perfect loveseat in a world filled with choices. There’s also an opportunity, he added, to incorporate personalized product placement within VR—such as through virtual catalogs and products that are optimized for the individual consumer.

“If I know that you’re in a VR experience and are someplace in a country where a certain type of [car] is being sold, that can be the car the character drives, but guess what? That car is only sold in Europe but not in North America,” Mallin said. “So in North America maybe it’s a Mustang. So maybe you can take the next step and have the ability get more information by doing certain eye movements. But the consumer scale isn’t there yet to drive those things.”

@martyswant martin.swant@adweek.com Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.